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Wyoming Business Tips for March 6-March 12


February 28, 2011 — A weekly look at Wyoming business questions from the Wyoming Small Business Development Center (WSBDC), part of WyomingEntrepreneur.Biz, a collection of business assistance programs at the University of Wyoming.

By Anya Petersen-Frey, WSBDC regional director

"What exactly is process mapping?" Bob, Torrington

This is a great question, and timely because I just finished a process mapping project with a local organization.

A brief overview: Process mapping is usually considered a quality management tool with an overall goal of improving a process by looking for gaps in service, waste (time or product) or other issues. You may have heard terms such as "Six Sigma," "Lean Six Sigma" or the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program. All provide tools geared toward maximizing efficiency while maintaining control over a process -- manufacturing or service related.

Process mapping provides business leaders the opportunity to clarify how processes are actually being performed, revealing problems such as bottlenecks or variations in how the process is carried out by different groups or individuals. Process mapping strives to improve business performance by optimizing the efficiency of connecting activities in the creation of a product or service.

A process map is a tool -- a means to an end, not an outcome in its own right. The final output will hopefully be an improvement in the way that the business process works. Two main process models are the "current" model, which outlines an existing process as it is performed now, and the "future" state model which defines the way the process will look when changes or modifications have been implemented. The goals of completing this process are to create value for the customer and to reduce costs for the company.

There are many ways to approach creating a process map. Optimal is to have people at all levels of the organization involved, even in a small firm. The starting point is to identify and map out a particular process for a "current" state. It can be difficult to identify and correct them if you don't know where the gaps or delays are in a process.

For example: Imagine owning a carpet store that sells carpet as well as offers delivery and installation. What is the process -- from the customer perspective -- of purchasing and having carpet installed? The starting point might be "customer comes into store to look at carpet." Then what? What questions are asked that direct the next step?

Walk the steps as though you are a customer, including communication, time involved, etc. Note where delays occur or where decisions have to be made. This can be a messy process because different input creates a map with many divergent paths and that is ok.

This may be a simplified example but can give you a hint of how to take a step back and objectively view a business process. It is important to understand what each person does -- ask them. The map should have no personal names but rather only list the processes and the differences in how different people handle them.

There are many flow chart and process map examples on the web as well as software to help build a personal final map. Note some standard symbols used to delineate "decisions" or "delays" -- these can be helpful, but the map can be created in a way that meets the needs of an organization.

An objective facilitator guide can help the original data collection using input from various people to get an accurate view of what is actually happening, but again, a business owner can begin the process on his own.

The key goal in using this tool type is to maintain a competitive edge. Do not become complacent and fall into the age-old "this is the way it has always been done" trap. There are times when the original method is still the best, but many times it is time to re-evaluate and institute more efficient processes.

A blog version of this article and an opportunity to post comments is available at http://www.wyomingentrepreneur.typepad.com/blog/.

The WSBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Wyoming Business Council and the University of Wyoming. To ask a question, call 1-800-348-5194, e-mail wsbdc@uwyo.edu or write 1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3922, Laramie, WY, 82071-3922.

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